Design Thinking Road to a Merchant’s Heart and Mind





Experience Design, UX/UI Design, MVP Design


When the leading mobile financial service provide had a purpose to design one of Vietnam’s first merchant-centric mobile apps to enable their success, they started a reflective roadmap to answer the fundamental question “What is it that Vietnam’s merchants truly desire at the end of the day?”. “How might SmartPay fill that role?” “How might we design a digital solution that help enable their growth and success, embedded at every minute of their operation?”

As an empathetic “built with merchant at heart” brand, Smartpay decided the best route to create a new experience to help them “touch their success” starts from their heart and their mind. This is where Doodle’s Design Thinking methods come in to enable the goal.

How We Helped

This journey began with a reframed strategic challenge statement: “How might we create the most desirable winning merchant app that they tell all their friends about?”

As an integrated part of SmartPay’s squad team of Product Designer, Experience Designer, and Tech, Doodle and SmartPay Team collaborate together to emerge into series of workshoppings, discoveries, testing, and MVP to truly walk into the world of the merchants and begin to discover new solutions that can help make their business easier.

The project had a clear goal in mind: to bring the merchants’ voice in each and every solution or decision we need to make within our team. To do that, we needed to break down our process into small design and testing loops to constantly reengage the end-merchants in our design process.

Some discoveries were quite eye-opening. Some were quite surprising. But for the most part, we got a chance to hear the sharing of lots of true stories. Questions such as “ how might we turn such stories into solutions that they love?” “which features should we do now, later?” “Do they want this? How may we make it better?” were asked.

The power of co-creation has helped us gain clarity, fasten the decision-making process and assure merchant’s voices are considered early, often and throughout.

What is the process to get to the heart and the mind? Let’s take a gallery walk.

The Merchant

Knowing the merchants inside out, the SmartPay/SmartShop team had some certain assumptions of what they know about their end customers. To bring light into the important baseline, we decided to reimagine the merchant personas. Turning our ‘what’ knowledge into deeper layers of insights, we collectively co-created 3 different personas which represent different lenses of stories and allowed us to deepen our empathy and acquire a more extensive understanding of the merchant’s goals, experience, attitudes and pain points. The personas were the results of thorough qualitative interviews and real-world observations with several of Ho Chi Minh City’s hard-working merchants across different fields such as F&B, Pharmacy and electronics.

The Brand

Leveraging from the master and sub- brand manifesto and the target merchant personas, Doodle created the app-focused “Touch Your Success” strategy to add a twist of digital experience and desirable outcomes that are relevant to the new personas. To do this, Doodle and the Team started with an evaluation of the brand position and developed a deeper understanding of the brand challenge, goals, benefits (functional & emotional), and competition within the field of merchant services. Ensuring the strategy stays closer to the master brand essence and the end-merchants is no easy process. The process of questioning, moving pieces of information, and re-validating our knowledge helps us arrive at the sweet spot of the new merchant-led brand pyramid.

"Together with Doodle, we excitedly took our first step in the path which we had been carefully planning from SmartPay's inception - to develop a leading application for merchants to manage and level up their business. In a company that 100% focuses on SMEs, the voice of merchants is our single guideline to create a faster, friendlier, and highly personalized mobile app to serve every category and segment of retailers, even it is payment acceptance, business management or financial services."
Pham Thanh Tung
Head of Merchant, Smartpay
The merchant-centric design methods

To evolve from a mobile wallet app to a merchant centric experience is an intensive process. As the team goes through the “Make. Test. Learn’ process to create feature roadmap, wireframing, UX flow, UI Concept and a series of prototyping and testing, the key challenges lie in the navigation process to keep us close to the reality: being 100% merchants- centric, keep our “eyes on the sky” to create the new and innovative solutions and having our “feet on the ground” to make sure ideas are business viable and feasible).

Questions such as “DO they want this? “SHOULD we do this?” “CAN we do this?” were constantly asked during the process of working together. With SmartPay/SmartShop’s leadership and clarity, the team’s commitment to design principles and the benefits of ‘iterative and incremental ‘trial, error and gain’ of Design Thinking helped untangle the chaos.

Looking back, the project followed some key principles to arrive at our target goals together:

Power of Co-creation & collective consensus

Workshoppings, co-working sessions, and prioritization are the key successes to help us make new ideas and arrive at collective decisions. Working across different departments requires common language. Engaging and inviting the merchants into the process creates this powerful voice together. The design team has interviewed and validated with 19 merchants and joined in countless meetings together.

What is not being validated not being decided

This is simple. However it is not easy. The more we deepen our involvement in the project, the more ‘comfortable’ we get to ‘make it an idea’ or “let’s just decide that way’ forgetting the most important compass – the end user. In order to avoid ‘assumption trap’, we agreed on the key principles ‘what is not being validated not being decided’. Bringing in merchants’ voices is essential to keep us on the right track.

There is no dearth of mobile solutions today in the market to serve customers however what ensures the adoption and continuity of the app is the methodology used to build the solution and who is in the focus. In our case, we were very clear - our merchants. Right from the drawing board , to development , testing we were sure that the heart of the app is the merchant and its critical for us to listen to them , take their feedback and improvise.
Simran Sonic
CPO, SmartPay
The right choice of Design Thinking method

Design Thinking is not a linear process. The beauty is we can use the methods for any challenges. In this particular case, we applied new participatory research methods to validate different pre-assumed knowledge. The Doodle team handpicked some relevant methods that worked for SmartPay/SmartShop business challenge. The remarkable and stand-out method Buy A Feature was put to use to discover what features merchants truly want. The fun gamification method allows us to not miss a piece of discovery from each individual merchant. In fact, sometimes it is easy to assume most merchants want the same features but it is not far from the truth. This method allows us to open up this blind spot and uncover hidden desires behind every feature’s story.

UX Design principles

When we embark into the journey of reimagining the user experience for the future app, we established some level of alignment and baseline to guide our design ethos. Having some principles in place sets a good guide for where the team is heading, making decisions easier and faster and helping bring in better clarity across. Our Design principles were straight forward: Always stick to less than 3 step process, When things get busy, break it up to smaller steps or design components, What is not being tested not being designed (did we say that before)

The outcomes

As specific features were co-ideated and coded into MVP, the Doodle and SmartPay/SmartShop team tested the app with the people who mattered most, the merchants. This iterative process of ideating, developing, and testing was repeated several times throughout the project, in order to achieve an app that provided substantial benefits to the everyday merchant experience. It is still early days for a budding merchant-centric SmartShop but we are counting on the great outcomes so far:

Download the SmartShop App here.

Through the co-creation process together, Doodle and SmartPay team unblocked roadblocks and iterate quickly by marrying external merchants voice throughout. The innovative and open minded ways of working from SmartPay team were critical for the success of the project.
Nhu Vo
Founder - Doodle Design
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